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Organic? I'll drink to that

Chemical-free wines see spike in sales

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Grant Rigby, owner of Rigby Orchards in Killarney, is the province's only organic liquor producer. The province says organic-wine sales are growing at more than 10 per cent annually.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Grant Rigby, owner of Rigby Orchards in Killarney, is the province's only organic liquor producer. The province says organic-wine sales are growing at more than 10 per cent annually. Photo Store

The organic movement is expanding from the grocery store to the liquor store.

Sales of wines made with grapes free from preservatives or pesticides grew in excess of 10 per cent in the province last year, more than double the four per cent growth for the entire wine segment.

"Organic wines are becoming more popular," said Susan Harrison, a spokeswoman with Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries. "I think people are more familiar with organic products."

'I think there's a better way of doing things without poison. I'm helping bring the science to organic'

-- Rigby Orchards owner Grant Rigby

The first bottle of organic wine appeared on Manitoba shelves a decade ago and that has expanded to 46 different organic products. It's all sourced from 11 countries around the world, with the top-selling products coming from Chile, Argentina and Italy. There is also one homegrown option for Manitobans -- a pair of wines from Rigby Orchards in Killarney.

Owner Grant Rigby's raspberry and cherry wines are certified organic, but he's not trying to ride the wave of a growing trend -- he converted his farm to organic in 2002.

"I think there's a better way of doing things without poison. I'm helping bring the science to organic. Part of that science is keeping toxins out of our lives and the food supply," said Rigby, who has a master's degree in food sciences.

He also has another wine, black currant with honey, that isn't certified organic because of the honey.

"I have complete faith in the local honey being worthy of consumption. I stand behind it. There are no pesticides applied to it. It's difficult for honey producers to meet the certification requirements. I stand behind it," he said.

Rigby produces several thousand bottles per year, which are sold in Manitoba and in select stores in Saskatchewan and Alberta. He has no plans to go further afield.

"It's nice to know the consumer, who is consuming it and why. (When you export) to a distant foreign market, it's just a cheque in the mail," he said.

Organic wine is also available in some private wine stores. Mo Razik, proprietor of Fenton's Wine Merchants at The Forks Market, dedicates about 10 per cent of his shop space to organic wine. He said the biggest benefit to this relatively new segment is it doesn't have any added sulfites, which are preservatives and to which some people are allergic. (There are often some naturally occurring sulfites that are created through the winemaking process.)

After more than four decades in the wine business, Razik doesn't agree with anybody who claims organic wines taste better -- or worse -- than traditional vintages.

"Based on lifelong experience with wine, I don't believe it makes any difference to the taste," he said.

"The rest of the benefits are sentimental. You're a believer. It's the same reason people seek organic food, they believe in nature and no chemicals. There are people (for whom) it's not what grape it was made from or what region it came from, it's the organic that's more important."

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2014 B6

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